I had the pleasure recently of speaking with Writer/Director/Producer Richard Ledes, whose docufiction The Dark Side recently screened in NYC and is currently available to view online. Along with the current release of The Dark Side, Richard’s other recent films include Fred Won’t Move Out and Forclosure. Richard talks about working with the talented Elliott Gould, and the challenges of working on a film with no advance planning.
Can you share with me a bit about how you first started in film? When did you know this was what you wanted to do?
There are multiple beginnings to my becoming a filmmaker, some of which date back to early childhood, However, given the recent events in Paris, I want to emphasize the importance of that city to the long 40-year gestation towards my first feature film. During most of the 80´s I was living in Paris. I made my first 35mm short while living there but just as importantly I saw in cinemas on big screens a great number of films from around the world. I gained in Paris a knowledge of American cinema that I personally certainly would not have obtained in the United States. Paris is the heaven of cinema. When our films are no longer new releases it is where we hope they will someday go to be seen in one of its multitude of cinemas that show films from the history of cinema: films by Hitchcock, Pasolini, Eisenstein, Renoir, Wilder, et cetera. Going out to see a film is part of the public cultural life of Paris that was directly targeted by the terrorists.It is crucial for France to defend its people but also its values that are implicit in the role the city of Paris continues to play in world cinema.I think it is important to emphasize that this goal is not served by racist stereotyping and indiscriminate targeting of Muslims.The perpetrators obviously depend for success on their acts as unleashing a reflexive racism that promotes a narrative about a clash of civilizations, the same narrative used by fascists in Europe.
Share with me about your writing/directing experience…not just what you’ve done leading up to The Dark Side, but also in regard to filming, post production, the team of people you’ve worked with in the past.
Well, I like to work with the same people on more than one project. Doing this enriches the journey for me and I hope for my collaborators. I think one pivotal confluence for my development was working a second time with the actor Elliott Gould on Fred Won’t Move Out, a film I approached with a more improvisational style than my previous films. Among the work Elliott is best know for is his work with the director Robert Altman, a director famous for improvising. In preparation for my own film, I reviewed the work of Altman as well as other directors known for an improvisational style and whose films I hold in high esteem, in particular the films of Altman, Mike Leigh, Lars Von Trier and John Cassavetes. I soon realized that “improvisation” meant something very different for each of them. From this study and from working with the cast–particularly Elliott–I developed my own sense of improvisation.
You’ve pretty much written all the films you have directed, what inspires you in your writing?
It’s mysterious to me what inspire me to write. So many stories and ideas interest me but only by a few am I driven all the way to expressing them as films. Other people have made me aware that the films I make often link a fictional narrative to an historical trauma. I think that’s true to an extent. I feel I am still experimenting when I make a film and hope that will continue.
The Dark Side is a docufiction film shot during Hurricane Sandy. I feel like there is so much to talk about here, how unusual of circumstances. Please share with me more about the film, story, but also about filming during that time and how that impacted everything. We are all interested to hear about this because it is unusual. I’d love to know what some of maybe the biggest challenges were for you.
I think one of the hardest things was just to begin. After all, the film was started with no advance planning. My previous film, Fred Won’t Move Out had been started with less preparation than I was accustomed to and you could say The Dark Side was an even more radical step in this direction. However, I have to admit that I was working with experienced collaborators with whom I had already worked and in whom I had confidence, such as dp Valentina Caniglia, co-producer Ged Dickersin and actor Edoardo Ballerini. Hurricane Sandy transformed the city and thanks to the support of these seasoned collaborators I was able to immediately go to work.
I classify The Dark Side as a “docfiction” but I only discovered this hybrid genre after I had made the film and grown frustrated having to submit it to festivals as either a fiction film or a documentary. Not surprisingly it is a contested genre–many dramas have a documentary component without needing this hybrid moniker and the inverse is true of documentaries that have a fictional component. In this case, I think it means that there are obvious fissures in the film’s approach and focus that are sewn together through editing. These fissures elicit from the audience their own abilities to produce meaning. When I worked on this film I felt terribly alone yet compelled to push on. Recently I was amazed to see the trilogy “Arabian Nights” by Miguel Gomes which won the Cannes Palme d’Or. I felt immeasurably less alone even if it is presumptuous to compare my 54-minute film to this trilogy. I was at the first US screening of these films at the New York Film Festival at which Gomes participated in a Q&A afterwards. His goals and ways of
working are analogous to my own, stitching together fact and fiction in a way that leaves the stitches showing.
You recently had a screening of the film, correct?
Using Tugg.com, we were able to gather the requisite audience for a single screening in New York City on one of the big screens of AMC Loews. I was happy that our director of photography Valentina Caniglia was there to see how well her work stood up. I think the same was true for the rest of my collaborators who were able to be there. The audience’s response made it a great evening.
Where at this point can people see The Dark Side?
This is the first time I have not released a film working with a traditional distributor. It is currently available online on VHX, Hulu, Amazon Prime and Snag Films.
Thank you for your time Richard!